S.H.E. IS: Rita Levi-Montalcini

B.1909 – D. 2012
“I am not afraid of death – I am privileged to have been able to work for so long … If I die tomorrow or in a year, it is the same – it is the message you leave behind you that counts, and the young scientists who carry on your work”

In honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27th, it is important to reflect on the lives impacted by the atrocities that occurred throughout the Holocaust. We must remind ourselves of the lives lost as well as the people who persevered during this hardship. A woman who is important to remember for both her contributions to science and her resilience during the Holocaust is Rita Levi-Montalcini. Rita Levi – Montalcini was a Nobel laureate and neurobiologist who dedicated herself to science.

During the War

Born in 1909, Rita Levi-Montalcini faced many difficulties between gender discrimination from her own family and Fascist Race Laws. Restrictive laws discriminating against Rita forced her out of a University-level education, but her determination to contribute to science and continue her research on the nervous system forced her to set up a laboratory in her hiding place in Turin, and later in Florence.


After the war, Rita moved to St. Louis in the United States to conduct research for one semester, but she remained at Washington University for 26 years furthering her research and teaching future innovators. In the 1990s, Rita became an advocate for science in the political and social spheres. She became a writer supporting awareness and funding for scientific research. As well, she established different foundations and research programs such as the Rita Levi-Montalcini Foundation (1992) which supported women from developing countries enter into STEM and the European Brain Research Institute (2002). In 2001, Rita became deeply invested in Italian politics as she earned the title of a senator for life. With this position, she advocated for science and secured funding for important research.


In 2012, at the age of 103, Rita Levi-Montalcini passed away. At this point, she was guiding students, contributing to research, and maintaining her responsibilities with the Italian government. Rita Levi – Montalcini is an important figure in history for her contributions to science and her resilience in the face of adversity such as gender and religious discrimination. Her research, government involvement, and guidance to students positively impacted the entire scientific community.

Photo credit:

Chandler, Adam. “Rita Levi-Montalcini (1909-2012).” Tablet Magazine, The Scroll, 31 Dec. 2012, www.tabletmag.com/scroll/120519/rita-levi-montalcini-1909-2012.


Posted: February 17, 2020

Category: UF/IFAS

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